Tony Glausi: Finding musical identity

Young Eugene composer/trumpeter's debut album defines his place in Oregon jazz

by GARY FERRINGTON

When award-winning young Oregon jazz trumpeter and composer Tony Glausi set out to make his debut album last year, he looked back over the last few years of his original compositions and realized that a common theme flowed through much of his music: the search for his own musical identity, starting with his childhood musical inspirations. Glausi, a graduate teaching fellow pursuing his master’s in jazz composition at the University of Oregon, has quietly gained a national reputation for his ability to excite the ears of audiences and judges. His new CD Identity Crisis, released in December and available online and at gigs, reveals a young musician who has both established a distinctive musical identity, and is poised to take the next big step in his career.

Eugene jazz musician Tony Glausi. Photo: Tyler Sams. 

Eugene jazz musician Tony Glausi. Photo: Tyler Sams.

“Tony’s music — whether in performance or in composition or in band leading — is pure Tony,”  says Brian McWhorter, Associate Professor of Music  and one of Glausi’s mentors at the University of Oregon. “He may be having an identity crisis, as the album seems to imply, but he’s not afraid of putting that very crisis in every note. Where most musicians shy away from that kind of vulnerability, Tony’s voice is direct, charismatic, and unyielding. And unusually, his music remains light and fun. He’s vulnerable without having to resort to some heavy, bogged down introspection. Rather, when we hear his music, we get an immediate sense of his obvious intellectualism and wit, without the burdensome feeling like we’re going to have our own identity crisis just by hearing about his!”

Selected as Outstanding Performer Overall and (twice) Outstanding College Trumpeter at the Reno Jazz Festival, Glausi also was named 2013 outstanding undergraduate improviser by Downbeat Jazz & Blues Magazine and placed 1st in the Jazz Division of the 2014 National Trumpet Competition. He graduated magna cum laude with a BM in Jazz Performance at the University of Oregon in 2015.

In addition to leading his own jazz quintet and nine-piece funk band, Glausi is a dedicated collaborator who performs and records with other Eugene ensembles such as the Top-Hat Confederacy and Jessika Smith’s Eugene Composers Big Band. He also performs with several university ensembles including the award-winning Oregon Jazz Ensemble, which toured Europe in 2014, and the JazzArts Oregon Combo. Along the way he’s performed with internationally renowned artists including virtuoso jazz pianist George Colligan, reggae legend Norma Fraser, and British indie pop-star Ruth Theodore.

The young Oregon artist on the rise gives his impression of the state of jazz today from the point of view of the next generation of Oregon jazz musicians. He also explains the sources of his own music, and the challenges an indie jazz musician faces in making a debut album in the 21st century.

Jazz and Young Audiences

I have to be honest. Jazz is old-fashioned. It’s old people’s music. But that doesn’t mean ‘jazz is dead’—it is alive and well, but exists most commonly today in genres like hip-hop, R&B, soul, funk, and even country and pop. Whether you like it or not, that is the future of jazz; it is changing, and it always has been. While there is a fair amount of straight-ahead jazz happening today—I don’t think that kind of jazz will ever die away completely — there just isn’t a big audience for it anymore.

Glausi performing at Eugene’s Jazz Station. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Glausi performing at Eugene’s Jazz Station. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Oregon’s Jazz Scene

TG: On the whole, I suppose I would say Oregon is doing well: there are several great festivals (PDX Jazz Festival, Oregon Jazz Festival, Oregon Coast Jazz Party, etc.), good jazz education programs, and a lot of talented musicians. Portland in particular used to have an exceptionally thriving jazz scene. It was a stop for nearly every international band touring on the West Coast.

But in the years following the economic recession of 2008, many venues that used to support jazz have either closed down or discontinued hosting jazz bands. Many players are actively looking elsewhere for performance opportunities.

Studying Jazz

As soon as I was old enough to sit at the piano, I was practicing daily, picking out melodies by ear and soon writing my own music. But it was hearing my cousin play trumpet at family events that attracted me to taking up another instrument at age 10. It felt good from the start, and my fascination with the sound and all the possible colors I could get has kept me going ever since.

The UO jazz studies program has given me the opportunity to learn from incredibly knowledgeable teachers, record and produce tons of music, and develop a brand as a musical artist. Being at a school like the University of Oregon is a privilege; there are extensive resources and almost too much to get your hands on.

Outside of school, at gigs, on the road, that is where you learn what being a musician is really about. It’s not about how perfectly you play, or even what you play; it’s about how you connect with your audience and what you can give to the world.

Composing Jazz

I love writing music. It is my favorite form of self-expression. I begin with an idea, generally a simple something that has been floating around in my head for some time, and I take it to the piano. I just play. I play until this idea fully develops. Sometimes I’m working with a bass line or an ostinato; other times it’s with a melody that can’t escape me; sometimes I start with a chord progression or a voicing I am in love with; and sometimes I am just fascinated with a groove.

No matter where I start, I somehow end up combining all the elements of music together. It’s an incredibly liberating process because there are no boundaries; everything is fair game.

Photo: Courtney Glausi.

Photo: Courtney Glausi.

Maybe for ‘practice’ I will use some compositional techniques, try some weird things and put myself in some boxes or what have you, but when it’s time to write I just sit down and play what I hear. I write my music the way it wants to be written. When everything is working right I feel like I’m letting the music write itself. I don’t want to force anything.

Like most composers, my own music is heavily influenced by the all of the music I listen to and study. For this reason, my writing is not limited to only jazz—I have written pop songs, hip-hop, soundtrack music, TV show themes, and pieces for various chamber ensembles as well. I’m not sure where I’ll end up with composing, but I can’t ever give it up. (Editors note: Listen to  “Extrapolation” a new three-part work composed by Tony Glausi and performed by the University of Oregon Trumpet Ensemble.)

I am a vehicle for sound. I compose it, combine it, transform it, translate it. As an artist, I aim to create sound that makes people excited to take their next breath. My music is rooted in tradition yet explores so many new colors and sounds, giving listeners something different to digest and something exciting to look forward to in the future. People often tell me after hearing me perform that they are having a spiritual experience while listening to my music. To me this is the greatest compliment. I truly believe and actively hope that what is attracting people to my music is this very sensation, a spiritual enlightenment that is both moving and inspiring. I want people to feel my deep passion for creating music. It’s what I live for. I love it dearly.

Making Identity Crisis

This project is about finding myself, finding my voice in music, my identity. The music was written sporadically over the span of several years as I searched for my own individuality both musically and personally. My hope is that listeners ponder the message of each piece and reflect on their own identity.

Album_cover

I had been thinking about producing an album of my own work for quite some time, but in the spring of 2015 I finally felt ready. The music was already written, the artistic concept relatively developed, so all that was left was, oh ya, everything: fundraising, phone calls, emails, scheduling, recording, mixing, mastering, music videos, album artwork, disc manufacturing, distribution, reviews, press releases, interviews, and CD release shows. Am I forgetting anything?

Anyway, I’m not sure there’s ever a right time to make an album these days. There is already WAY too much music out there for anyone to have the time to listen to it all. I just did it because I felt like I HAD to. I think that’s when it’s right.

When it came time to choose the music for my album, looking back at what I had written over the span of the past several years I noticed how similar the messages in these particular ten pieces were. Identity crisis as a theme came out of selecting and compiling music that I had already written…. It seemed almost obvious that this is what I was thinking and feeling throughout those years in my life. It was so clearly expressed in the music I was writing.

Something to be Remembered For” and “Amen” are the pieces most special to me. Both are inspired by religious hymns, which is where my musical training and understanding really begins. I grew up singing and playing hymns, and I still do. There is something about this music that really hits people in a different way. “Something to be Remembered For” is about giving your all to everything you do, leading a life worth remembering, leaving a legacy that lasts forever. “Amen,” the final composition on the album emulates the way an Episcopalian cantor and his congregation communicate scripture with music: the cantor sings one line of chant and the congregation repeats it back.

I thought for a long time about whom I really wanted to record this music with. I knew the musicians had to be fiery and passionate, and with those two things in mind I chose Todd DelGiudice (alto sax), who is truly one of the best living saxophone players; Greg Goebel (piano), who is really making things happen in Portland and all across the globe; Josh Hettwer (tenor saxophone), Lyle Hopkins (bass), and Ken Mastrogiovanni (drums), all of whom I play with frequently and whose musicianship and artistry are on incredible levels; and Torrey Newhart (piano), Sean Peterson (bass), and Adam Carlson (drums), all of whom make up my regularly performing jazz quintet and never fail to bring the house down.

I can’t fail to mention my gratitude for my brilliant videographer/photographer Cyrus Shiva, who was able to capture the spirit of the music exactly as I was envisioning, and Nathan Alef, who’s skills in engineering helped us as a band get the sound we were looking for.

Glausi with bandmates Torrey Newhart, Sean Peterson, Adam Carlson and Josh Hettwer Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Glausi with bandmates Torrey Newhart, Sean Peterson, Adam Carlson and Josh Hettwer Photo: Gary Ferrington.

The hardest part of this undertaking was the fact that I was my own producer, artistic director, manager, fundraiser, marketer, agent, you name it, not to mention the composer and trumpeter of the band. Fundraising was an extremely time-consuming but rewarding two months. I was simultaneously planning out every last detail relating to the record, which meant I was making phone calls and sending emails every day concerning travel logistics, rehearsals and studio time, and of course the music itself. I had to keep in constant contact with my sound engineer and videographer about what I was aiming to achieve artistically.

And even after it was all done being recorded I was involved in the mixing, mastering, album art, and had to figure out how to get hundreds of copies sent to my doorstep and then mail them off to those who donated and/or pre-ordered the album. I guess what I’m saying is it’s INTENSE.

Looking Forward

Every day I try to figure out who I really am as a musician, but I discover time and time again that it is all of these things [composing, teaching, improvising, arranging and producing music, playing trumpet and keyboard] that make me the artist that I am. I hope that with the combination of these musical abilities, and with the work that I have already accomplished, I will be able to relocate in an environment where my music will be appreciated by as many people as possible. Will that place be east of here? New York? Europe? I don’t know…perhaps L.A. or one of the great cities in the Midwest. We’ll see.

Tony Glausi brings heavyweight Portland talent to Eugene-Springfield for an evening of classic jazz featuring Greg Goebel on keys, Todd Strait on drums, and Dave Captein on bass. Roaring Rapids Pizza Co. at 4006 Franklin Blvd, Eugene. Tuesday, April 12 at 7:30pm.

A full schedule of upcoming gigs featuring original music by Glausi and other Oregon jazz musicians appears on his website’s calendar. Glausi’s album Identity Crisis is available at CD Baby. The music section of his web site lists other album appearances and performance video recordingsTony and his wife, clarinetist Courtney Glausi, publish the harmonious two,  an online exploration of stories and insights about a life in music and the future of their chosen professions.

 Tony Glausi's nine-piece Funk band performing at at a sold out Jazz Station in Eugene, April 2, 2016. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Tony Glausi’s nine-piece funk band performing at a sold-out Jazz Station in Eugene, April 2, 2016. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.

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